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New Faculty Member Wins Bancroft Dissertation Prize

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Ansley Erickson

Ansley Erickson

Ansley Erickson, newly arrived at TC this fall as Assistant Professor of History and Education, has received the prestigious Bancroft Dissertation Award, given by Columbia University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences for outstanding Columbia dissertations in American History (including biography), diplomacy, or international affairs. The award carries a publication subsidy of $7,500, transferable to a press of the winner’s choice.

Erickson’s dissertation, “Schooling the Metropolis: Educational Inequality Made and Remade, Nashville, TN, 1945-1985,” argues that the pursuit of economic growth fostered educational inequality in Nashville even as the district achieved relative statistical success at desegregation. By studying desegregation as part of urban history, linking it to changes in the city’s economy and geography, Erickson brings new insight to familiar stories of desegregation’s accomplishments and limitations.

One major theme of her dissertation traces how schools contributed to massive shifts in metropolitan space in the post-World War II decades. During court-ordered desegregation, black children were bused out of their neighborhoods roughly three times as frequently as whites, Erickson found, in part due to an intentional redistribution of schools to the suburbs, despite a growing black population in Nashville’s downtown. The rationale for the redistribution turned on pro-suburban, anti-urban standards set by city planners and federal officials that discouraged new schools from being located near high buildings or areas of commercial or apartment use, and that set acreage guidelines that required at least 30 acres for an average high school.

“Despite their physical presence, over the 1960s poorer urban residents became increasingly invisible in city planners’ discourse,” Erickson writes in a recent paper, distilled from her dissertation, that is posted on the Web site of Columbia’s Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy (ISERP). “Planners focused instead on changes encouraged by local growth ideology – urban commercial development and fast suburban growth.” A decade later, planning maps deliberately obscured the fact that much of Nashville’s school-aged population was densely concentrated in urban areas that were home chiefly to black families. “Even in the midst of extensive court orders for desegregation, school districts made decisions that privileged the interests of white, middle-class, suburban students over those of their poorer, urban, black counterparts. Imagery and ideology about space rationalized this uneven treatment.”

Erickson’s dissertation also traces how pursuing economic growth shaped curriculum – particularly in efforts to train Nashville students as future workers – and thus helps explain the motivations behind familiar patterns of tracking that often separated students by race and class even within desegregating schools.

Erickson taught at Syracuse University prior to her arrival at TC. Her paper on the ISERP site can be viewed at http://iserp.columbia.edu/node/1164/. An article drawing from her dissertation research will appear in the Journal of Urban History in early 2012.

 


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